Archive for the ‘new feature’ Category

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

“Your library” tab now remembers

I made a small change, but a basic one. It may cause some confusion, so I figured I’d do a quick blog post about it.

The “Your library” tab now “remembers” where you were in your library, rather than resetting things. This recreates the dead (and much-mourned) “back to catalog” button, found on work pages until they were redone. So, if you are on the fifth page of your catalog, go to an author and from there to a tag, a help page, the wiki, your email, a YouTube video of laughing babies and then back to LibraryThing and the “your library” tab, you’ll find it where you left off.

Because it’s basic, there may be some hiccups. Report problems on Talk, here.

Labels: new feature, work pages

Monday, September 17th, 2007

Google Book Search … on LibraryThing

Introducing something new we’re calling “Google Book Search Search.”

Google Book Search Search is a bookmarklet that searches Google Book Search for the titles in your LibraryThing library. It works not unlike the famous SETI@Home project. You set it up and searches Google Book Search slowly in the background.* You can watch, do something in another window or go out for coffee.

When it’s done you can link to and search all the books in your library that Google has scanned. You’ll find a “search this book” link on work pages, and a Google Book Search field to add to the list view in your catalog.

But this isn’t just a selfish thing. There’s a lot of searching to do, and you can help. If you choose, you can pitch in and help with others’ books. All of the data gathered is free and available to everyone. A lot of people want a reliable index of what Google has, not least libraries.

What do I do?

Google Book Search Search is a “bookmarklet.” You save it to your “favorites” or “bookmarks.” Then you got to Google Book Search and you click it. You can see what pops up on the right.*** Press start and it will start collecting information.

Here it is: Google Book Search Search

We’ve tested it on FF and Safari on the Mac, and FF and IE7 and IE5.5 on the PC. We haven’t tested it on PC IE6 yet. I have no idea about Opera.

Why a bookmarklet?

We’ve wanted to do this for a long time. But to link to a book on Google reliably you need its Google ID. For some reason Google doesn’t publish these, making it impossible to tell what they have and what they don’t, and impossible for sites like LibraryThing to send them the traffic they want. Secretive and self-defeating? Seems like it to me.

Efforts have been made to collect Google IDs before. The well-known Lib 2.0 blogger John Blyberg tried, as have others. We tried too. The trick is that Google Book Search—like the rest of Google—has a system in place to stop machine queries.**

Making a bookmarklet distributes the work. And because it takes place within a browser, it tends not to trigger machine-collection warnings.

Ultimately, however, Google can put a stop to this. The bookmarklet has a signature. And Google can send us a note, and we’ll disable the bookmarklets. Just as Google respects the robots.txt file, we’ll respect such a request.

Why not use “My Library”?

Last week Google introduced an interesting “My Library” feature, allowing people with Google accounts to list some of their books. A few tech bloggers saw an attack on LibraryThing.

LibraryThing members were quick to dismiss it. It wasn’t so much the lack of any social features, or of cataloging features as basic as sorting your books. It wasn’t even the privacy issues, although these gave many pause. It was the coverage.

Google just doesn’t have the sort of books that regular people have. Most of their books come from a handful of academic libraries, and academic libraries don’t have the same editions regular people have. Then there are the books publishers have explicitly removed from Google Book Search. Success rates of below 50% were common. Of these a high percentage are only “limited preview” or “no preview.”

The Google-kills-LibraryThing meme has another dimension. We WANT people to use Google Book Search. It’s a great tool. Being able to search your own books is useful, and LibraryThing members should be able to do it. Call us naive, but we aren’t going to be able to “pretend Google isn’t there.” And we aren’t convinced that Google is going to create the sort of robust cataloging and social networking features that LibraryThing has.

Our bookmarklet works by transcending ISBNs, using what LibraryThing knows about titles, authors and dates to fetch other editions of a work. In limited tests I’ve found it picks up around 90% of LibraryThing titles.

Information wants to be free

Our commitment to open data is long-standing. We’ve railed against OCLC for its desire to lock up book metadata.

But we’re not railing here. We think it’s perfectly fine for Google to control access to the scans it’s made. All we want to do is link to them, to send them traffic. It’s not clear to us that Google is trying to control access to its ID numbers.

You can see and edit the data here. Full XML downloads of the data are also available there.


*Come to think of it, it works like Google.
**The system is overzealous. It often refuses to show me Google Blog Search pages in Firefox because I look at LibraryThing’s blog coverage too much.
***It’s quite amazing what a bookmarklet can do. We could have never done it if Altay hadn’t shown us the way in this sort of Javascript. The script itself is, however, pretty amateurish–a notice attempt at what Altay did expertly.

As we put on the bookmarklet: “Google and Google Book Search are registered trademarks of Google. LibraryThing is not affiliated in any way with Google or the many libraries that have so generously provided Google with their books and bibliographic metadata, although we share a love of books, a desire to make information as freely available as possible, and similar opinions about evil.”

Labels: features, google, google book search, new feature

Monday, September 10th, 2007

WikiThing: A wiki for LibraryThing

We’ve had the whole team up in Portland, ME, getting to know each other, brainstorming, planning and working on projects. We chose two projects to work on all together. We wanted something that could engage the talents of the whole team.

The first release is WikiThing*, a full-featured wiki for LibraryThing. A wiki is, of course, “a collaborative website which can be directly edited by anyone.” You can use them for lots of things. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia. DiscourseDB tracks published opinion pieces. So what’s WikiThing for?

We’re not sure! But we’re kicking it off with:

  • FAQ. We’ve put our static Frequently Asked Questions pages up on the wiki, where everyone (including us) can edit them. If it works out, we’ll get rid of the static pages, or reduce them to a few questions, and link to WikiThing.
  • Help. We’ve got a few Help pages that aren’t FAQ pages.
  • Bug tracking. This was a tough one. We do not want to move all bug conversations to the wiki. Bug tracking can seem like a simple record, but it is generally a conversation, with questions and answers back and forth. Feature requests are even more so. At the same time, a simple list of bugs, with links to Talk posts, could be a big help for everyone.

What do you want to do with it? Leave a note here or on the Talk: New Features post about ThingWiki.

How do I do it? Editing is super easy. Just go to a wiki page and click the “edit” link at the top, or one of the “edit” links by a section.

WikiThing is based on the MediaWiki engine, the same software that runs Wikipedia. So, if you know how to edit Wikipedia, you know how to edit WikiThing. If you don’t, it’s easy to learn. Mostly you just type. If you need to do something fancy, like insert a link, we have a Wiki help. If you screw up, don’t worry. Someone else will come along and fix it.

What about a “content” wiki? We thought long and hard about having a “content wiki.” A content wiki would have wiki pages for all works, authors and so forth. It would cover often-requested fields, like the year of original publication for a work and series information, and hitherto unrequested ones, like the name of the acquiring/literary editor. Members would be able to edit them and the edits would get picked up and put on work and author pages.

After a lot of thought and experimentation we decided that MediaWiki wasn’t the right tool for the job**. We needed a true “fielded wiki.” We looked at options like Aaron Swartz‘s Python-based Infogami, which also runs Open Library.****

In the end, we decided to do it ourself, and it turned out easier than we thought.

We’ve got one more day together, and plan to make the most of it. Whether we can finish it up today or now, we should get it out this week.


*I was overuled on the name. I wanted ThingWiki, in keeping with ThingISBN, ThingTitle and so forth. Casey and Chris** were against it.
**The individual formerly known as “Christopher” (ConceptDawg) shall henceforth be known as “Chris.” Although friends call him Chris, we were calling him Christopher because we also had a Chris (Chris Gann), but Chris Gann is long gone, and Chris—the Christopher Chris—wants his name back! Who’s on first?
***We also decided that tools like Semantic MediaWiki and WikiForms weren’t there yet.
****Since Infogami runs ThingDB—yes, he used the name first—we were thinking of calling our product ThingGami!

Labels: fielded wiki, infogmi, new feature, open library, wiki, wikithing

Monday, September 10th, 2007

Some videos

We’ve added work-page links to forty-four promotional videos from Simon and Schuster and BookVideos.tv.

The videos are a mixed bag. There are some good ones, but many have a superficiality and gloss to them that I find grating–more 2am infomercial than, say, Booknotes. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the company that made them, TurnHere, makes similar spots for luxury homes and fitness clubs. But kudos to them for posting the videos to a blog, with comments on.

In the last few months, publishers have been going in some interesting new directions with viral marketing and social media. Some ideas, like the HarperCollins and Random House widgets, make sense. Some, like VP Book Club, don’t.

In this case, the publisher could get as more impact, and pay a lot less, if they pointed a cellphone video camera on one of their authors at a reading. Then again, regular people will do that without prompting or payment. Check out all the YouTube videos of Neil Gaiman reading at book shops.

Labels: bookvideos, new feature, simon and schuster, turnhere

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

Add a dynamic signature line to your email

Wouldn’t it be neat to tell the people you email with what you’re reading now? I saw this on emails from friends over at AbeBooks, and thought it would be cool to have it done dynamically, and from LibraryThing data.

Email clients don’t allow scripts or for example RSS feeds, so I created a way to do it, based on images that many (but not all) email clients allow you to include in your signature.

Here’s what I’m talking about, with the signature line called out in yellow:

To play with the feature, click here. (You have to be logged in.)

Some notes:

  • This feature will get a lot more useful when we have a proper “currently reading” collection feature (coming soon). You pretty much have to use tags now.
  • No complaining about “fluff” features, please. Chris Gann first made this feature almost a year ago. I dusted it off and hacked together a user interface. It didn’t distract us from making your favorite feature.
  • We need your help! We’re going to need to come up with directions for adding this to different email clients. Some just won’t allow it. I’ve started a thread for discussing this.

Labels: email, new feature

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

Tag-based recommendations

I’ve added a simple drop-down menu on members’ LibrarySuggester page, allowing you to see recommendations based on the books that fall under just one tag.

It’s not the everything—an ideal solution would have includes, excludes, percentage-interests, and so forth.—but it’s still pretty cool. Certain topics I’m interested in—as here Alexander the Great—get swamped by more numerous interests.

I’m also excited by the effort to put Thomas Jefferson’s library into LibraryThing. See the Thingology Blog.

Labels: new feature

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

More small catalog improvements

I’m redoing the catalog extensively so that wish lists and “collections” aren’t tacked on Rube Goldberg-style. Most of the improvements are on the “back end.” But two are on the front, and have been eagerly anticipated for some time:

1. Subsorting. As most (but apparently not all*) members know, you can click a column in your library, such as “Title” or “Author,” to sort by it. But how do you sort by two columns? Well, you couldn’t, but not you can. We adopted the common but hardly universal convention of subsorting by the last sort. So, if you want to sort by author, and title within author, click “title” to sort by title, and then “author” to sort by author and subsort by title.

2. Suggested display styles. You can now set a “Suggested display style for visitors to your library.” Visitors then get this as an option to use this when they look at your library.

“Suggested displays” was introduced last week, on Talk. Users have come up with very good recommendations for improving it. I indend to take them up on some of them.

Labels: new feature

Tuesday, July 24th, 2007

Tagmash!

Tagmash: alcohol, history gets over the fact that almost nobody tags things history of alcohol

Short version: I’ve just gone live with a new feature called “tagmash,” pages for the intersections of tags. This is a fairly obvious thing to do, but it isn’t trivial in context. In getting past words or short phrases, tagmash closes some of the gap between tagging and professional subject classifications.

For example, there is no good tag for “France during WWII.” Most people just don’t tag that verbosely. Tagmash allows for a page combining the two: France, wwii. If you want to skip the novels, you can do france, wwii, -fiction. The results are remarkably good.

Tagmash pages are created when a user asks for the combination, but unlike a “search” they persist, and show up elsewhere. For example, the tagmash for France, Germany shows France, wwii as a partial overlap, alongside others. Related tagmashes now also show up on select tag and library subject pages, as a third system for browsing the limitless world of books.

Booooring? Go ahead and play a bit:

That’s the short version. But stop here and you’ll never know what Zombie Listmania is!

(full post over at Thingology, “Tagmash: Book tagging grows up”)

Labels: new feature, tagging, tagmash

Friday, July 20th, 2007

Project Ocelot: Social changes

New look; new connections controls.

This announces a series of major “social” improvements, previously dubbed “Project Ocelot.”* Most have already been released, but were never blogged.

They were talked about, however—and how! The first batch were released to the Recommended Site Improvements group on July 11, where they garnered 187 messages. Two pre-release topics, here and here, racked up another 228 messages. And there were spin-off topics too.

As usual around here, the conversation drove our work. It was a great fun to work through everything with everyone. In case there is any doubt, developing LibraryThing is a blast.**

Here’s a run-down of the changes:

1. Friends and Interesting Libraries. (On your profile.) LibraryThing now offers a number of different “connections” between members. Shared books are still primary, but we’ve added “Interesting Libraries,” “Friends” and “Private Watchlist.”*** Interesting libraries are a one-way thing, although the person you mark as interesting gets a heads-up notice. “Friends” is a mutual connection. “Private Watch Lists” are still private. You can edit your connections, and see who has you on their lists.

Previous “friend” proposals have caused some concern, so we took pains to overcome most objections. We made “interesting libraries” the first option, to keep focus on the books. Friends don’t show up unless both sides consent. And you can disable “friending” and block users. The term “friends” itself rubbed a few people the wrong way—I’ve only just gotten over it myself—but it’s success is clear. Since the changes went live 60% of connections ahve been “friend” connections.

2. Connection News. (On your profile.) You can now follow what your connections are doing on LibraryThing—the books they’re adding, the reviews they write, the books they rate. You can choose any of the new categories (eg., “Friends”) or the fifty users who share the most books with you. This is my favorite feature. It’s something LibraryThing was missing. I think it adds a lot.

Members who share my favorite authors.

3. Shared Favorites (Introduced today). (On all profiles.) Some time ago, we started allowing members to list their favorite authors. Well, now you can find out who shares them with you. Here, for example, is Abby’s list. Mine is too obscure still.

4. Rating Reviews (Introduced Wedensday). LibraryThing a supportive environment. We didn’t want the “vote wars” that Amazon books can have. So, we are allowing members to vote for good reviews with a thumbs-up. But there’s no thumbs-down.

We did add flags for Terms of Service abuse and for non-reviews. (Wherever reviews are found; the feature is being discussed here.)

5. “Also On” Connections. (On your profile.) This is the most technically interesting of the features. For some time, users have been able to record what other sites they belonged to, and their site handles there. “Also On” Connections parses your “Also Ons” to get your sites, and then checks public information from these sites to get your friends’ lists. These lists are then cross-checked against LibraryThing’s “Also On.”

Basically, it help you to fill in the gaps in your social network on LibraryThing. We made it when we ran a test and discovered that lots of users were friends on Flickr or BookMooch, but not on LibraryThing. Probably many didn’t even know their friend was on LibraryThing.

6. Invitations. (On your profile.) Altay made a nice, understated “Invitations” feature, that sends out invites to the people you select.

7. Search tweaks. (On search.) Search now allows “also on” searching.

Of course, we have more to do—a lot more, here, on the core cataloging features****, and with translation (one update there).

*Name discussed here.
**It’s odd, but LibraryThing involves its “users” in its development more than most open-source projects. Open source projects have more focus on developer-to-developer conversations. We almost never talk about technology, but always about features.
***There was a brief period when we had “public” and “private” contacts. All public contacts became “interesting libraries”.
****We should have some good announcements here soon.

Labels: new feature, ocelot, reviews, social networking

Monday, June 4th, 2007

Favorite authors, public contacts, other tweaks

Favorite authors. You can now “favorite” an author, and peek at other member’s favorites. You favorite on author pages, and the results show up on your profile. This has been available for a couple of weeks, but I never announced it. I’ve also brought the feature to more of the site, including your author gallery, author cloud and the Author Zeitgeist (pictured to the right).

I think it adds a fun new dimension to the site, and one we should have had from the beginning. It’s a good example of “unlearning the lessons of Amazon.” Amazon is a great site, but it conditions everyone’s thinking about what a book site should be and do. Marking books makes a lot of sense on a commercial site, but marking authors could distract people from the products. LibraryThing is about distraction, not commerce.

Jane Austen and J. R. R. Tolkien are currently in a no-holds-barred fight for first place. Not a pretty sight.

Public contacts. LibraryThing’s original “watch list” was private. Members—with me at the head—found “friends” lists a little creepy, and too susceptible to—as BlueSalamander put it—”drama.” (Worth quoting: “The drama [on LiveJournal] by “friends lists” borders on the ludicrous.”)

But public lists have their uses. Sometimes you want people to know who your friends are, or whose libraries you find most interesting. And many people just don’t feel the way I do. After a protracted—and not necessarily final—public discussion of terms, I’ve settled on “Contacts” (public) and “Watch list” (private). I think it’s pretty clear in context.

So far, only a few people have public contacts. By default, all watch list entries stayed private. You can flip them to private on your profile.

I’ve tried to keep the drama low. “Contacts” is purposefully vague, and there is no automatic way to see who has added you on your “contacts” list. I wanted to make it possible to give someone’s library a nod, without igniting a full-scale popularity contest. And you can be damn sure I’m not going to start automatically adding me or other LT people to everyone’s “contacts” list when they sign up. (I’ve been thinking that my wife, Lisa Carey, might be added to everyone’s favorite author list, however.)

Other features. I’ve finalized a couple of other small features and feature tweaks:

  • Author and book Zeitgeists are now updating more frequently. It’s all section-by-section, but everything should turn over roughly once per day.
  • The Author Zeitgeist now has a “show more” link for all the categories. Go nuts.
  • Talk topics have been partially de-Javascripted, for people who like to use tab browsing. Basically, if you click on the topic itself, it works. If you rely on clicking anywhere in the row, it’s still using Javascript and tabbed-browsing unfriendly.
  • Recently-tagged books now refresh more frequently. A security problem was also solved.
  • Users with your books takes up less space on the screen. A full list—in twice the list—is available if you click “more.”

Labels: authors, contacts, features, new feature, watch list